Jordan’s share of ballots from abroad was 31,000, the largest share of the vote. They were enthusiastic about their chance to elect Iraq’s first long-term governing body since the collapse of Saddam’s regime in 2003. Many said they voted to elect Iyad Allawi’s list. Others said they hoped the election would benefit their ethnic group.
In this election, all Iraqis are hoping for a better future for Iraq. For expatriates, preventing Iraq from being divided appears to be a stronger motivator than religious sectarianism in driving them to the polls.
This motivation has led many Iraqis in Amman to vote for list 731, which is Iyad Allawi’s party. Allawi’s party has campaigned on a platform of ending Iraq’s sectarian chaos. He claims that if his party gains a strong position in the governing coalition, he will keep the country united and fight abuse by members of the police and army.
Allawi has long been seen as a collaborator with the United States, the Occupation and the Iraqi Communist Party. The Communist Party held a position in the first interim government after the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolved in June 2003. Many figures involved with Allawi’s list are believed to have been guilty of collaborating with the Occupation. It is a striking fact that, despite the belief that Allawi has collaborated with the distrusted Occupation, many Iraqis even in Iraq were expected to vote for him.
Robert, an Iraqi Kildani from Baghdad voted for Allawi’s list, and as an explanation he said, "We need safety in Iraq, and I think he is the best guy who can bring us safety again."
In Amman and elsewhere in the world, Iraqis with a higher class standing appear to have a particular affinity for the westernized Allawi. Omar, a Sunni Arab, reminisced about what life was like in the slightly calmer time while Allawi was Prime Minister.
"When he was Prime Minister the situation was more stable," said Omar.
Amman’s elections however were not without incident. One case that was reported involved two Sunnis who attempted to vote twice. This incident occurred at the Tala al’Ali High School and was reported by a poll worker who wishes to remain anonymous. According to the poll worker, "Two men, around twenty, tried to vote twice for the Sunni’s list 618."
He claims that an argument ensued and the men, who had attempted to vote twice by cleaning their fingers from the much-vaunted ink, were prevented from voting again.
This incident reflects a drastic departure from previous elections and political actions in Iraq. Previously the Sunnis of Iraq have appeared suspicious of the election process. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has reported there were 692 regarding the campaign and the December 15th election. The exact details of these incidents weren’t immediately accessible. As of publishing time, the IECI was not available for comment on the incident in Amman.
If this incident is determined to be true, it may provide the clearest insight yet into the apparent about-face of Sunni parties in Iraq. Rather than complaining about a corrupt, unfair process, it seems some Sunnis may have decided that turnabout is fair play.
Other Iraqis in Amman expressed concerns for their own marginalized communities as a reason for voting. Particularly communities such as Iraq’s small Sabean, Chaldean, and Assyrian populations have been forgotten in the polarized view of an imminent civil war hanging over the country.
Sarjon, an Assyrian Christian who is from Baghdad, said he was sure to vote in the election. "I voted for the list 800, the Assyrian General Conference party. They will ask for our rights as Assyrians, we were treated as 4th class citizens under the ex-regime. We want to become 1st class citizens as we are the native nation of Iraq."
Amman’s Iraqi population showed a large turnout to the elections. However, the sum of all Jordan’s Iraqis is only one-tenth the size of Iraq’s eligible voters. Even if all Jordan’s eligible Iraqi expatriates voted, they will still likely have only a small effect on the election’s outcome.
Despite their small impact on the election itself, Amman’s Iraqi populace reflects the same hopes for the election that many Iraqi’s still in their home country have.
Omar and Robert both made it very clear that they hoped for a secure and undivided Iraq. They also both seem to believe that Allawi’s list is Iraq’s best hope for this.
Omar said, "I wish he will win, because if he doesn’t win, Iraq will be divided."
Robert agreed, saying that if Allawi’s list does not win, "The situation will never change in my country."
Although Allawi is not slated to win a portion granting his list any kind of mandate, many are expecting to see an increase in their parliamentary seats. Whether list 731’s gains will provide a mandate to encourage the other dominant parties to collaborate with Allawi remains to be seen.
What is certain is that Iraqi expatriates and those still at home have voted in record numbers for the new government. Many resistance groups claim they will continue fighting, but key elements in the Sunni wing of Iraq’s resistance have demonstrated a new interest in politics.
As the ballots are counted, the difficulties of coalition building will begin. If Iraq’s new governing officials keep the same positive outlook as their countrymen in Amman, it won’t make a big difference who takes the largest segment of ballots. Iraqis in Amman and all over the world are waiting for their government to demonstrate a willingness to cooperate and to lead so they can return home.
Shadi Al’Kasim is a 31 year-old Jordanian journalist who was born in Alexandria, Egypt. In 2001, he began working as a journalist for Orbit International, a newspaper based in Cyprus. In 2003 he journeyed to Baghdad and joined the Baghdad Bulletin, the first English language paper published in Baghdad after the war. After the paper’s collapse, Shadi continued working in Iraq in collaboration with Channel 4 UK TV. He continues to work as a specialist on the Iraq issue and fixer.
Brian Conley is a 25 year-old journalist and filmmaker. He is the founder of the Alive in Baghdad Project. During his first trip to Iraq, the Alive in Baghdad Project focused on interviewing Iraqis living in and outside Baghdad. At this point Brian is working on writing articles about the ongoing situation in Iraq and arranging the project’s second phase. It is the goal of the Alive in Baghdad Project to make Westerners, and particularly Americans, more aware of the Iraqi experience and to begin to understand the occupation from the Iraqi perspective.